Discussions about Chi

2 Different people, at 2 different times, on 2 different mailing lists, spoke about this issue. Here it is, un-edited.


Peter Gilligan was talking on the bodysmith list on January of 2003, and Elena posted to the TCCList in mid Nov. 2004, amazing correspondences in grasp & presentation.


Enjoy David L.


Hi there David L, Richard B


Sorry I've been busy the last few days and have been meaning to join in

(since David posted a few days ago on the 16th saying that it was my show :-). The pair of you have bounced around lots of ideas and covered broad swathes of thinking all of it very interesting. I still am a bit pushed for time just now so I won't try to deal with all of them at the moment.


At 16:41 21/01/2003 -0600, you wrote:

>These people will (IMO) have an easier time grasping the issues involved

>since they have a coherent background to assist them, few of us have taken

>the time like Peter G. has done to study the Oriental paradigms in such

>depth that they can use them like an Oriental would.


Well, while I find this very flattering personally I'd be the first to say

that my current understanding is still developing and I expect it to

continue to develop. As to thinking "like an Oriental" I dunno; you'd have

to ask my Chinese and Asian Indian friends if they would agree.


Since the title of this thread is "Stuck on Ch'i" I'll just stick to my

understanding/interpretation of this paradigm. I'll pick it up from my

previous post that David L has recently re-posted.


Taiji, I take to be a philosophical construct or statement about the nature

of the reality in which we find ourselves. Everything in the Universe can

be reduced to Taiji. In a way similar to the WS perspective that

*everything* can be reduced to fundamental particles. I note that these

"particles" are not in the WS paradigm solid "things" but rather "wavicles"

(which tries to summarise the wave/particle duality). These "wavicles" are

packets or knots of energy so compacted that they seem to behave

occasionally as if they were solid "bits". Ultimately the WS paradigm seems

to me to be saying that the most fundamental underlying source of

everything is energy - either condensed when it is matter or dispersed when

it is perceived as more conventional energy. So my understanding of current

WS thinking is that the Universe is made up of waves - though what is

"waving" is at this time debatable.


Similarly my understanding of the Taiji paradigm is that it too reduces the

manifest phenomena of the Universe to energy "waving". Yang is the

expanding phase - the peak of the wave; and Yin is the contracting phase -

the trough of the wave.(Though to talk of waves is a simplification in

itself. The "waves" of Qi it seems to me would have to be of higher

dimensional order than ordinary waves) Qi then is "that which is waving";

that which connects and communicates between Yin and Yang. So ultimately Qi

is the only "real" or "fundamental" entity in the Universe. Yin and Yang

are secondary since they are characteristics of the Qi. Expanding/expanded

qi would correspond to the energetic aspects of the Universe while

contracting/contracted qi corresponds to the matter aspects of the Universe.


As an aside I sometimes think that the wave/particle duality of Western

Physics might be understood in this framework. In an experiment where the

wavicles seem to be 'particles' we are accessing the Yin phase (condensed

energy looks like solid matter). In other experiments when the energetic

nature of the wavicles is to the forefront (e.g. interference studies) we

are accessing the Yang phase (expanded energy looks like 'real' energy)


Leaving that aside and returning to the Chinese Taiji paradigm; my

understanding of this is that the *only* thing in the Universe is the

Universe itself ( a non- dualistic, non-materialist - in the sense that

matter "matters", completetist as opposed to a fragmentalist view) And that

the ultimate nature of this "thing"; the Universe is energetic, called Qi

in this paradigm. So WS says that the Universe is wavy or waving while

Taiji paradigm says that the Universe is fundamentally Qi and that this is

"what does the waving" (Yin/Yang).


So from the Taiji perspective the only "thing" in the Universe; is the

Universe which is entirely Qi and no "thing" else. However our *experience*

of the Universe is that it does not appear as an undifferentiated oneness.

We experience; trees, and rocks, and flowers, and stars, and animals, and

insects, and people, and load of other "things". That we experience in this

way is held to be the result of the activity of the Qi; It Waves - peaks

and troughs in Yang and Yin phases. So Qi is both the substrate of "that

which is" *AND* the "waving" of the Qi is "informative" (in the information

theory sense of "differences that *make* a difference). The waves in the Qi

can interfere, both constructively (additive) and destructively

(subtractive). It is this interference between the waves in the Qi that

presents the Universe in the forms in which we perceive it.


An easy way to get a gist of this idea of interfering waves manifesting

"things" may be seen on a visit to the sea shore ( alternatively any

substantial body of water) on a moderately blustery day. On a calm day we

can see the waves gently rolling onto the shore. As the wave action

becomes more vigorous the reflected waves interact with the incoming waves;

this produces interference between waves and we can seem to see lumps of

water, or shapes, or forms of masses of water that *appear* to be

independent of the sea. This is usually a relatively short lived phenomenon

and the "forms" produced from the sea rapidly fall back again into it.

However if you take a snapshot you will see what looks like separate

"things" disconnected from the general mass of the water. These "things"

are all just water waving and the result of constructive and destructive

interference between waves. If such wave phenomena were of more extended

duration whole classifications of the different shapes produced; "things"

could be developed. However elaborated such a taxonomy might become and

however sophisticated theories of relationships and interactions between

these "things" might become the fundamental reality would still remain that

all of these would only be water waving.


Occasionally such wave interactions may produce stable forms that persists.

The most common example is the whirlpool. It is only "really" organised

water and in a river the water is continuously being replaced. While the

water that comprises the whirlpool is continuously changing the whirlpool

itself persists.


So from the Taiji perspective there is nothing but Qi waving. It is this

waving that produces the appearance of things and entities; as whirlpools

and other features emerge from water waving. So the "things" we perceive

are "whirlpools" in the only thing that exists Universal Qi. It is possible

to find real whirlpools that also have internal structure in that they may

contain mini whirlpools within a greater.


In the world of appearances that we inhabit some "things" are relatively

simple organisationally; i.e. rocks and minerals, while some things are

much more complex organisationally; i.e. the biosphere. From the Qi

perspective the former would be a simple whirlpool while the latter would

be "whirlpools within whirlpools". This range in orgaisational complexity

traps differing amounts of Qi. A simple forms contains less Qi than a

complex form. Thus living things are said to contain more Qi than non

living things. Simple living forms on the whole would be said to contain

less Qi than more complex living things.


To summarise:


Only Qi exists.

Qi "waves". Peaking/Expanding in Yang, Thoughing/Contracting in Yin.

"Solid matter" is very Yin - condensed Qi

"Energy" is very Yang - expanded Qi

Simple (orgainisationally) entities trap relatively small amounts of Qi -

whether in Yin phase or Yang phase or some combination of both.

Complex (orgainisationally) entities trap relatively greater amounts of Qi

- whether in Yin phase or Yang phase or some combination of both.


Finally in the same way that we can label stable and persistent structures

observed in water, e.g. whirlpools. Structures that persist even when the

water that comprises them is continuously replaced. We can label stable and

persistent structures observed in the Qi. We can call them rocks, minerals,

i.e. granite, calcite; plants, animals i.e. rose, cat and people i.e. you

and me.


Since these are considered to be fundamentally Qi structures it then

becomes possible to talk about "granite qi", "rose qi", "cat qi", "human

qi" etc. That is; to name a particular and persistent organised "knot" or

"whirlpool" of Qi. Since we find structures within structures we can also

then talk about "heart qi" and "lung qi" etc. Note that this second order

use of "qi" refers more to the informational, orgaisational pattern that is

particular and persistent than the first order "Qi" which is the substrate

or implicit reality of the Universe. The various "jins" of Taijiquan are

then third order, mind/yi directed/created, refined organisations of the

second order "human qi".


Thus while it can now be seen that it is legitimate, in some senses, to

call "qi" (second order) "life force" such a usage is in some sense a form

of short hand or abbreviated summary.


I trust that this will be of some assistance.


Most Cordially


Old Turtle in Belfast


Peter A Gilligan

Hi Karen


At 20:41 27/01/2003 +0000, you wrote:

>This tour de force surely stunned everybody into silence :)


Ooops. That wasn't my intention. I was trying to be helpful. Though I admit

that it is not a very simple topic :-))


>I was hoping that somebody had understood it better than me and had

>entered a discussion, but it seems I will have to ask my own


>Do you remember in high school or that age when you were presented

>with ideas like Sartre and existentialism or Jung and the archetypes

>and you read it and understood the words but were simply not equipped

>to get real perspective or understanding....That is how I feel here.

>But anyway...


Luckily, or otherwise, for me both Sartre and Jung did not cross my

intellectual horizon until university. I've no idea what I might have made

of them in high school. Even now I find Jung's book Synchronicity a

troublesome read.



> When it was mentioned that your understanding of Qi was as a

>template, my question would have been; what is the stuff that we use

>the template on, but it seems to me now that you say that Qi is 'the

>stuff'. 'Strucures' are interference in the Qi, short or longlived.

>But what causes the interference?


Qi is the medium, in the sense that in this paradigm qi is the *only*

"thing" that exists. However it is also in the nature of qi to move. This

movement is characterised as having two phases/directions; Yin & Yang. Thus

the medium is inherently dynamic. This dynamism is "informative" in an

information theory sense. So the Qi is at the same time both the carrier

and the information (which is modulations in the carrier). I'm not entirely

sure that causation is relevant in this paradigm. For that matter, I and

others have reservations about "causality" in *any* paradigm. May I quote

Hubert M. Blalock Jr. from "Causal Inferences in Nonexperimental Reasearch"

1961 U of Nth Carolina Press, Lib. Cong. Cat. Crd No. 64-22534 p5




The problem of causality is part of the much larger question of the nature

of the scientific method and, in particular, the problem of the

relationship between theory and research. There appears to be an inherent

gap between the languages of theory and research which can never be bridged

in a completely satisfactory way. One thinks in terms of a theoretical

language that contains notions such as causes, forces, systems and

properties. But one's tests are made in terms of covariations, operations,

and pointer readings. Although a concept such as "mass" may be conceived of

theoretically or metaphysically as a property, this is only a pious

opinion, in Eddington's words, that "mass" as property is equivalent to

"mass" as inferred from pointer readings." (Arthur S. Eddington, The

Nature of the Physical World (New York: The Macmillan Co. 1933) pp 251 -55)


The extreme empiricist or operationalist attack on theory has been made and

answered. There is no need to review this controversy except to mention

that many of the objections to causal thinking involve the same types of

issues. We shall take the commonly accepted position that science contains

two distinct languages or ways of defining concepts, which will be referred

to as the theoretical and operational languages. There appears to be no

purely logical way of bridging the gap between these languages. Concepts in

the one language are associated with those in the other merely by

convention or agreement among scientists.


The empiricist criticism of certain types of theoretical thinking contained

valid arguments, but went too far. It had made us aware, however, that it

is by no means a simple matter to develop theories that are directly or

even indirectly testable, Causal thinking has also come under the attack of

logical positivisits, operationalists, and other types of empiricist

philosophers. According to Mario Bunge, "The causal principle fell into

disrepute during the first half of our century [he was writting in the 20th

cent.] as an effect of two independently acting causes: the criticisms of

the empiricist philosophers and the growing use in science and technology

of statistical ideas and methods." (Mario Bunge, "Causality, Chance and

Law" American Scientist XLIX (December, 1961) p432)


{end of quote. emphasis in the original [ ] mine}

AFAIAC the Tai Chi paradigm is empricist and as such does not consider

causality. My understanding is that it only contains empirical data such as

covariations, operations and pointer readings, as Blalock describes above.

These observations are then reduced, or distilled, to Taiji as the

underlying source, or reality, behind the everyday world of appearances. WS

accepts the necessity of the two distinct languages; theoretical and

operational, the Taiji paradigm avoids this problem (or attempts to avoid

this problem) by using only the one operational language.



>My second question is much less clear for me. You talk about 'cat qi'

>and 'human qi' . Is human qi a person? that means: is human qi=



"Human qi" does equal human in the sense that humans as a species can be

taxonomically discriminated from other species. However generic "human qi"

does not equal a person any more than Homo sapiens sapientis as a

biological species name equals an *individual* person. To draw a parallel

with contemporary Western science; "human qi" is to the "human genome" as

"mouse qi" is to the "mouse genome". Further detailing is required to

specify an *individual*; "human" or "mouse".


> Something is rattling me here, that the energy, waves in this

>interference structure used to make the person, is the person. I am

>not talking about soul or something like that, it is something in the

>logic that is bugging me.


Since "things" (humans, mice, stars, flowers, etc) are all *ultimately*

"knots" or "whirlpools" in the qi, types or classes of these "knots" or

"whirlpools" may be identified which correspond to the "things" we

experience. Humans in general are the results of "knots" or "whirlpools" of

the "human qi" configuration. Individual humans, persons, in general

conform to the generic "human qi" template with unique internal variation.

Should this variation be such that the "human qi" template is excessively

disturbed then that individual is non viable.


In WS terms; all humans fall within the human genome. Variations beyond set

limits (boundary conditions) result in non viable individuals. As far as I

can see the "logic" remains the same.



>So when you have the time I would like if you could make me

>understand better. And in the meantime I might have found some

>clearer questions :)


I hope that this will aid your understanding. And I look forward to further

questions at you leisure.


Most Cordially


Peter A Gilligan

Hi Richard,


At 06:39 04/02/2003 -0800, you wrote:

>Peter, are you saying that Chinese language does not

>*permit* the construct of causailty?

>or were your remarks limited to the Qi theory?


It is not so much that the Chinese language does not "permit" causal

language rather that causal language is not "preferred" nor is it the

default form of linguistic expression. One may translate literally from,

say English, to Chinese; however if one does this the Chinese audience may

be stuck by the "strangeness" and peculiarity of your utterance.

Specifically within Chinese theoretical discourse the use of causal

language is not "normal".


Consider two expressions from Taijiquan:


xu1ling2ding3jin4 Yang Cheng Fu's first point from his Ten Essential

Points. Which is typically translated as something like; "A light and

sensitive energy is placed on the head top". While this is a recognisable

English sentence it IMV distorts the original more than somewhat.

Xu1 empty, hollow, void

Ling2 neck, to prop up

ding3 the crown of the head

jin4 power, energy


To me xu1ling2 offers the idea of something like the cardboard tube inside

a roll of toilet paper or kitchen roll - a hollow upright tube. Then ding3,

the crown of the head, is that which is so supported. And jin4 -

energy/power is "entailed" or "within" the hollowness. Note the virtual

absence of a recognisable verb.



bai2he4liang4qi4 which is conventionally translated as; "White Crane

spreads its wings". Again the English translation conforms more to the

rules of the English language than the original.

Bai2 white, pure, clear

He4 crane (bird)

Liang4 Bright,clear, luminous, shining. Firm (also the possibility of a pun

with liang3 - pair, couple of, two of , or liang2 cool)

qi4 wing (of a bird)


To me this says something like Bai2He4 - White Crane. Liang4qi4 bright,

clear, shining, firm wing (with punning overtones of "two of" and "cool".

In the first pair of characters the White Crane is introduced, and of

course as a bird it has wings. However that it has wings is emphasised by

the second pair of characters so the total is not merely any old White

Crane but a White Crane with *wings*. The *wings* are emphasised. If you

like the wings are made prominent and in that way "displayed"-


As Andrea Falk, the xingyiquan teacher and Chinese linguist has written;

"What causes movement is not necessarily separate from the movement itself

or from what moves. This is one reason why descriptive passages sometimes

seem circular to Western logic. Linguistically, these terms are *not* (my

emphasis) hazy in the Chinese language, which does not need to make

distinctions which are necessary in English. At the surface level of

expression, the Chinese language can use the same word as a verb, noun, or

adjective, so naturally the "thing" being described could be active,

matter, or a property."



>The former I find very hard to believe. It would seem

>to be a huge intellectual handicap (from my western

>perspective, of course).


Certain Western thinkers have suggested that belief in the "causal

principle" in the West as if it was *true* rather than an intellectual

construct is a primary intellectual handicap to all Western thinking,

science and technology.


Hope this clarifies




Peter A Gilligan

Hi David L


At 09:02 04/02/2003 -0600, David L. wrote:

>I was very fortunate to be taught by a Chinese person that had both TCC

>skills and understanding and WS / W. Engineering skills and understanding,

>through repeated experience of jin and jin making coupled with hybrid

>concepts slowly a map started accreting for me.


Luck you :-)) I had to apply my own understanding of WS and Western

Philosophy more or less alone.


>We (this generation of TCC players in the West) have the difficult task of

>not just learning a high skill art but creating the fundamental language

>bits and 'maps' that allow these to be understood & communicated in OUR

>world. In some ways we are a transitional generation that will never repeat,

>since by being what we are we destroy the need for being what we are.


This is a *very* important point IMV. I regard myself as something of a

"bridge" between the two world views. I have submitted myself to

traditional Chinese instruction so that I may gain "understanding" within

the Chinese framework. Since I am a Westerner educated in the Western

classical tradition I then attempt to express the "understanding" so gained

as the Westerner that I am. To the extent that I am successful I hope to

both make myself redundant and to assist in the creation of suitable

western language to describe and exchange and transmit my limited




>Peng and Sung and Yao and Qua and Chi and Yi and ... can be better grasped

>in English since we've added some mental territory where they can be mapped

>East and West.


> > I am not trying to

> > insult anybody or anything, but quite frankly I think most of it is

> > quite silly.


>I had a long time laughing at the silly natives in the good old USA, until I

>went native :-}


> > The treatment for TB,


>Works ... and very important to CMC since he was a practicing TCM doctor,

>suffered from and was cured of by TCC, and had a hard time with WS type of

>medicine (which from TCM POV is rather barbaric). For better grasp of this

>subject read Dr. Zee in his works about Wu style & medical effects etc.


Incidentally the WHO recognises the efficacy of Taijiquan as a treatment

for TB and lists this alongside the WS antibiotic treatment.




Peter A Gilligan




the concept of qi is uniquely East Asian, and contrary to popular

belief that misconstrues it, in nearly 100% cases, as something that's

"the same" or "about the same" as pneuma, prana, vital force, energy

and so on, it is nothing of the kind. Both simpler and more

fundamental, this is, first and foremost, a nondualistic idea with no

Indo-European counterpart. To grasp what qi really means might take a

number of years and a radical transformation of one's thinking, not

just a tranlation...


Qi is the potential and actualization of change simultaneously, and

cause-effect relationships of any kind are not part of how it works,

since it is something that is present before, during and after

transformation. The kind of change it is involved in is

"actualization," "something becoming what it is meant to be," as in an

interaction between the qi of a grain and the qi of the earth, heaven,

sun and rain via "gan ying," resonance, the method whereby qi

manifests its presence and not so much "causes" as "can't not be part

of," in the case of a grain, its becoming what it potentially,

inherently, already is -- and ONLY this, not "something" or

"whatever." Here's Chuang Tsu's take:


"The great cloud belches out qi and its name is wind. So long as it

does not come forth nothing happens, but when it does, the ten

thousand hollows begin crying wildly... Blowing on the ten thousand

things in a different way, so each can be itself."


That's qi... the deepest insight of Chinese civilization.




Hi Mario,


> so i'm not sure if ur saying, that each culture adds it's own spice /

> version of explaining what this phenomena is.


No, I'm saying that what other cultures have come up with as their

"proprietary" world view is distinctly different from what the Chinese

civilization (and/or its earlier sources) has come up with. I am

saying that all Indo-European traditions, ancient to modern, do have

things in common in their conceptual thought, and they call them

various things (like pneuma or vital force or energy, e.g.), and that

most people tackling qi mistake those cosy familiar notions of their

own cultural tradition (or of one close enough in its underlying

conceptual fundamentals) for a version of what the Chinese mean when

they say qi,


and that one would have to radically transform one's thinking in

order to realize that there's a lot more similarities between, e.g.,

Christianity and Hinduism than between Hinduism and Taoism, and

there's a helluva lot more simiarities between, say, "soul" and

"prana" than between "prana" and "qi." I'm saying that the concept of

qi is uniquely different, and only superficial and erroneous takes on

it equate it to any and all by-products of a dualistic matter-energy

split of Indo-European thought, such as prana, pneuma, vital force,

soul, spirit, energy, or some such.

> or are u saying, that qi and prana are different!


Yes, absolutely different. Prana presupposes the existence of a

dichotomy between matter and energy, the existence of matter as

separate from energy, the existence of matter and energy as different

things, a world view the Chinese never had.


> if so, can you tell me, the difference between, prana and qi, as you

> understand it !


Unlike prana, qi is not something that "vitalizes" something otherwise

"inert." Qi is as much an attribute of a mountain or a lake as it is

of a man or a dog. The juxtaposition of spirit and matter -- the

mainstay of Indo-European thought in general that's behind the concept

of prana -- is not part of the Chinese conceptual thought pertaining

to the phenomenon of qi.




Ho Gary,


I'll try to reply in depth when I have the time, a quickie for now:


you are right, it is indeed my brevity that accounts for "Chinese"

being used (albeit with due caveats where I had the prudence to insert

them) by me as a shortcut to what I really mean:

"classical Chinese daoist and proto-daoist concepts that constitute

the uniquely integrated philosophical and experiential basis of a

worldview and, simultaneously, lifestyle, of a practitioner and,

simultaneously, theorist of philosophical and, simultaneously,

empirical sciences and arts rooted in the classical works of daoist

thought and, simultaneously, empirical practices organically

intertwined with same in this particular approach to reality."


And, yes, you are absolutely correct in asserting that an "average

Chinese" today neither thinks the thoughts nor talks the talk nor

walks the walk... for reasons too numerous and too historic for a

non-historian to tackle in an email. But the difference between what

an "average modern Chinese" knows and what an "average" Chinese

classic like the I Ching or the Nei Jing knows is not the same as

between what an "average American" knows and what an "average European

classic" knows, in that in the case of the former, both exist today as

practices, not just "dao of the mouth," and anyone who wants to "get

to the source" of any "classical daoist" concept (like yin and yang

and qi, e.g.) CAN, regardless of whether she is ethnically Chinese or

not. Whereas anyone who would like to live -- not just think -- like

a Buddha or a Christ or an Arjuna wouldn't know where to start...

So, to your other question -- whether qi is something that's "Chinese

only" or universal -- of course it is universal, but it's "classical

Chinese sources only" that give one access to the best way to tackle

what exists unnoticed and unused (sic!) for everybody else. Hence my

"Chinese" shorthand for something that is, of course, not "Chinese

only" and not "Chinese modern ethnic" but, rather, "classical

Chinese-daoist in its origin and recognizable as such today as

something that is distinct and different from anything originally

non-Chinese non-daoist," quite unlike anything Hindu or Russian or

Catholic or Belgian.


Best wishes,